When political canvassers come knocking

Condo corporations can’t restrict reasonable access to certain types of campaigners
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
By Michelle Ervin

With Ontario’s provincial election well under way, condo boards and managers — or their door staff — are likely to encounter political canvassers requesting access to their buildings, if they haven’t already. What not everyone may be aware of is that, per the Condominium Act, they are required to oblige. If they don’t, they risk facing a hefty fine.

Section 118 of the Act explicitly states: “No corporation or employee or agent of a corporation shall restrict reasonable access to the property by candidates, or their authorized representatives, for election to the House of Commons, the Legislative Assembly or an office in a municipal government or school board if access is necessary for the purpose of canvassing or distributing election material.”

Despite this, anecdotal evidence suggests that canvassers have difficulty getting into some condo buildings.

Holland Marshall, a North York condo owner, recently highlighted the problem in a post on his website, Condo Madness. Marshall confirmed through a conversation with a candidate in the current provincial election that canvassers were having difficulty getting into condo buildings — more so than in apartment buildings.

“You’ll see after this election that not enough people voted; people are not exercising their rights,” he says. “I’m not saying this is a major part of this, but it is a part. If you don’t have canvassers allowed into buildings for the different political parties, you’ve lost that personal touch.”

John Bowker, communications director for the Rosario Marchese campaign, says the incumbent NDP MPP for Trinity-Spadina has likely had the same experience as every other candidate canvassing in condo buildings. He says condo residents and concierges are rightly cautious and protective of their privacy, pointing out that there are rules preventing political activities and solicitation outside of the writ period.

“However, during the writ period, canvassers that have been authorized by candidates have a protected right to canvas residents in condo buildings, co-ops and apartment buildings,” Bowker says. “Unfortunately a lot of people don’t know that, and a lot of concierges don’t know that, but every canvasser that we send out has a copy of the legislation that they can show the concierge and demonstrate that they do have the right to do that.”

Reminding superintendents or property managers of their obligations under the Condominium Act is precisely what canvassers who find themselves in this situation may wish to consider, according to Andrew Willis, communications co-ordinator at Elections Ontario.

“If the building management remains uncooperative, you may wish to escalate the matter to your legal counsel,” he said in an email.

Denise Lash, partner at Aird & Berlis, says that she would also ask those identifying themselves as canvassers to provide proof of their identity and authorization to represent a candidate.

“I would ask for ID, because anyone can show their section of the Act, and the ID should have their authorization,” Lash says. “I think it’s reasonable to ask for that, and if they don’t show it, then you’d be concerned … the safety and security of the residents should be paramount.”

In the case of the Rosario Marchese campaign, canvassers carry a signed authorization form, noting they have been sent by the Ontario NDP and specifying on behalf of which campaign they are working.

If canvassers are authorized to represent a candidate, as set out in the Act, a corporation, employee or agent of the corporation can’t restrict their reasonable access to a condo building for the purpose of canvassing or distributing election material. As for what “reasonable” access entails, Lash surmises that restricting access at a construction zone within a condo building, for safety reasons, would be considered an acceptable limitation to this provision, as an example.

The lawyer isn’t aware of any court proceedings or prosecutions arising from non-compliance with the relevant legislation, but condo corporations may not want to risk testing it.

Section 137 of the Condominium Act stipulates that anyone who knowingly contravenes their obligation under Section 118 of the Act is guilty of an offence and, if convicted, may face a maximum fine of $100,000 for a corporation, and $25,000 for an individual.

The Canada Elections Act, which comes into play during federal elections, also makes specific reference to condo buildings. Section 81 provides that no one in control of a condominium building may prevent a candidate or his representative from canvassing between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Jim Ross, general consultant for David Soknacki’s Toronto mayoral campaign, says in his experience, canvassers can usually convince whoever is manning a condo building’s front desk of their right to access the building.

“Generally speaking, even when people are refusing, they’re refusing politely and they think that they are on the right side of things,” Ross says. “If there was a condo board that knowingly had a policy in violation of the law, I think it might be worth pursuing that, but a misinformed doorman is not someone anyone really has an interest in pursuing legal proceedings against.”

Chris Antipas, president and CEO of 360 Community Management, says that it is a property manager’s responsibility to ensure all of a condo’s building staff and its board of directors are aware of their obligations under the law.

“Maybe a reminder doesn’t hurt every now and then, especially around election time, just to send out a general reminder to the staff,” he says. “We did that very recently. We know that there’s an election coming up and campaigning is starting, and so we sent something like that to all our managers to remind all their staff, or on-site staff, that political canvassers are allowed in the building.”

The June 12 provincial election is near, but with Ontario’s municipal elections taking place this October and a federal election scheduled for spring 2015, condo boards, managers and staff can expect more canvassers to come knocking in the near future.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.

6 thoughts on “When political canvassers come knocking

  1. if all residents in a condo bldg. do not want canvassers into their unit, then I
    believe the canvassers not be allowed to enter the bldg.

  2. As a resident in an apartment, I hate this part of the Condo Act. Next time, I’m going to ask for the candidates name and party affiliation and then make a point NOT to vote for that person. If you want to “get in touch”, learn to find other ways to do so. We are disliking politicians more and more. Just a bunch of liars and people who take advantage of the rest of us.

  3. there is absolutely no good reason for election reps to be able to enter locked doors on private property. our lobby, foyer, and hallways are not open to the public. the doors are locked for a reason, for our safety and privacy. this farce of a law needs to be changed. we have disabled people in this building and letting strangers in is not the right thing to do. in todays world anyone can carry flyers in their hand and have official looking phoney ID. we have had people pose as PSW workers. with this stupid logic I should have the right to barge into a candidates home uninvited and discuss there policies, between 9 and 9 of course. we have a system where our paper and advertising gets placed inside an enclosed area, outside our locked doors. there is no reason that system cannot work for election reps. that’s just bull that they need the personal touch of meeting people, they can stand outside to meet and greet. they have public meetings for meet and greet. they can host a meet and greet at their home, instead of invading ours. I bet they wouldn’t like that. when did their rights become more important than mine.

  4. I had a canvasser that said I have to let him into our condo complex by law. When I asked him for his identification and a copy of the law, he could not produce it. These people need to provide identification. Something at least to prove that they are working on behalf of a candidate or a political party. Anyone can say they are working for a candidate, gain access and go on a shopping spree in our parkade.

  5. I understood that the locked front lobby doors in my condominium complex were where political canvassers had to be allowed in only by an owner! We have chosen to live in a secured, private residences if the political parties or anyone else wants to talk with us press the appropriate buzzer and I will come down and chat with you as I do for any other person who wants access but I do not want these or anyone else wandering around the building. They can contact the Bldg supervisor and leave info or we (owners)can arrange a meet and greet or decide on a day when these people can get into the building.

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